British poet and lexicographer Samuel Johnson said, “Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess.” If you have an image in your mind of what talents people are supposed to have, yet you do not possess them, then you will have a difficult time finding your true strengths. You need to discover and develop who you are. Here are a few suggestions to help you:
1. Ask, “What am I doing well?”
People who reach their potential spend less time asking, “What am I doing right?” and more time asking, “What am I doing well?” The first is a moral question; the second is a talent question. You should always strive to do what’s right. But doing what’s right doesn’t tell you anything about your talent.
2. Get Specific
When we consider our strengths, we tend to think too broadly. Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, writes, “The great mystery isn’t that people do things badly but that they occasionally do a few things well. They only thing that is universal is incompetence. Strength is always specific! Nobody ever commented, for example, that the great violinist Jascha Heifetz probably couldn’t play the trumpet well.” The more specific you can get about your strengths, the better the chance you can find your “sweet spot.” Why be on the fringes of your strength zone when you have a chance to be right in the center?
3. Listen for What Others Praise
Many times we take our talents for granted. We think because we can do something well, anyone can. Often, that’s not true. How can you tell when you’re overlooking a skill or talent? Listen to what others say. Your strengths will capture the attention of others and draw them to you. On the other hand, when you’re working in areas of weakness, few people will show interest. If others are continually praising you in a particular area, start developing it.
4. Check Out the Competition
You don’t want to spend all your time comparing yourself to others; that’s not healthy. But you don’t want to waste your time doing something that others do much better. GE CEO Jack Welch asserts, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” People don’t pay for average. If you don’t have the talent to do something better than the competition, place your focus elsewhere.
To get a better picture of where you stand in relationship to the competition, ask yourself the following questions:
• Is someone else doing what I am doing?
• Are they doing it well?
• Are they doing it better than I am?
• Can I become better than they are?
• If I do become better, what will be
• If I don’t become better, what will be the result?
The answer to the last question is: You lose. Why? Because your competition is working in their strength zone and you aren’t!
Former all-star baseball catcher Jim Sundberg advised, “Discover your uniqueness, then discipline yourself to develop it.” That’s what I’ve tried to do. Many years ago I realized that one of my strengths was communicating. People have always been motivated when they hear me speak. After a while, many opportunities were given to me to speak at events with other motivational speakers. At first it was very intimidating because they were so good. But as I listened to them, the thing I kept asking myself was, “What can I do that will set me apart from them?” I felt it might not be possible for me to be better than they were, but it would be possible for me to be different. Over time I discovered and developed that difference. I would strive to be a motivational teacher, not just a motivation speaker. I wanted people not only to enjoy what I shared but to also be able to apply what I taught to their lives. For more than two decades, I have disciplined my life to develop that uniqueness. It’s my niche-my strength zone.
From Leadership Gold, by John C. Maxwell. Copyright © 2008, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN. Used by permission.